A/N: Because I read Chapter 262-268 and I fell in love with Kaien/Rukia once again. Spoilers for episode 49 or Chapter 134 if you're reading the manga. Mild Rukia/Kaien, mostly Ichigo/Rukia.

I...honestly have no idea when this story occurs. I just had a thought and wrote it down. I guess it's just before Rukia runs away because she knows the Soul Society will be after her for breaking the rules. So please enjoy and don't forget to review.

Every time you and I connect with each other, a little bit of heart is born between us.

-Shiba Kaien, Chapter 268

Ichigo Kurosaki knew the sounds of Rukia Kuchiki.

When she was happy, a cute little mewl like a kitten would spill forth from her small, pursed lips and make him scowl because he had long been resistant to adorable things as result of his sister, Yuzu. When she was annoyed, a small puff of air would escape her lungs and seem to taunt him, make him feel as if he were a child and she were a dutiful mother smacking the sense back into his head. When she was angry, her voice grew as cold and harsh as the blue in her Nii-sama's eyes, like glass in the painted windows of cathedral and just as unforgiving. He could always, always tell her mood whether she were trying to hide it or not just by the sounds she made.

Tonight, however, he found himself surprised.

Ichigo blinked at the door to his closet at the first noise he heard, so quiet that he thought he'd merely imagined it. He settled his lean body still on the mattress and listened for it again. Surely enough, he heard a small, shuddering exhale escape through to his ears. He had never heard her sound like that before…

I shouldn't bother, the boy thought with a frown. Rukia's real touchy about invading her privacy and she wouldn't want me prying this late at night anyway. He contemplated rolling over and trying to get to sleep when he heard that small sound again, except it had a more distinct lilt to it almost like…a sob.

Throwing back the covers, Ichigo lowered his bare feet to the floor and crept across the room to the closet door, growing anxious from curiosity. After debating with himself a second longer, he slipped his fingers in the crevice of the door and slid it back, spilling moonlight into the small, cramped space of the closet and onto the face of Rukia. His breath caught in his throat as his brown eyes traced the gentle outline of her slumbering face, particularly along the profile of her nose where the silver light caught on a single tear easing down her chin.

She was crying in her sleep.

Instantly worried, Ichigo gently shook her shoulder, arousing the small shinigami from her sleep, muttering, "Rukia, wake up."

Rukia blinked blearily at him and sat up, realizing it was he that had awakened her and that there was a distinct dampness on her face. She brushed the back of her thin wrist across her cheek, hardening her expression into irritation.

"What are you doing up? I was asleep, you idiot." She grumbled, refusing to make eye contact with him by staring into the shadows by her feet. Ichigo's expression softened as he gently brushed his hand along the right side of her face, making her jump at the contact. She glanced at the glistening tear that clung to his thumb, her gut clenching in the horror that he'd noticed her sadness.

"You were crying in your sleep."

Her dark eyes hardened stubbornly as she crossed her arms under her chest, leaning her back against the wall.

"That's ridiculous. Shinigami don't cry, Ichigo."

He scowled and grabbed her upper arm, dragging her to her feet. She struggled as he tugged her across the room over to his bed, demanding for him to let her go. He shoved her roughly to sit at the head of the mattress and followed suit, a solid look of determination crinkling his brow.

"You're not leaving this spot until you tell me what's wrong. I don't care how mad you get at me."

Brown eyes met violet ones for a long moment, each with firm resolve matched by the other. Finally, Rukia sighed and guided her gaze to the floor, pulling her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.

"His name was Kaien Shiba. He was my nakama…"

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His hunger was always voracious right after they finished training and even though their lunches were short, they felt like hours to Rukia. Occasionally, he would unearth some cute anecdote about "wooing" Miyako, or a gripping hollow fight of whose ending he would hold off until their next break so she'd be left wondering how he managed to escape. Either way, Rukia enjoyed the fresh breeze that rolled through the trees around the enclosed spot, their spot, and the low, comforting tones of Kaien-dono's voice that caressed her ears. She had never met a man like him: a man who made her feel so…normal. She could smile, she could laugh, she could blush and it wouldn't change a thing. He would never treat her any different than who she was: Rukia.

"Oy. Payin' attention to me, Kuchiki?" She blinked as Kaien's long-fingered hand waved in front of her face, snapping her out of her reverie. A roguish grin slid across his lips.

"Maybe you have fallen for me like Kiyone says," he teased, watching her pale cheeks tint pink under his gaze.

"N-Nonsense, Kaien-dono! A girl would have to be a complete fool to fall for someone like you!" she shot back, and then clapped a hand over her mouth as she realized what she'd said.

"Sumimasen! I… I didn't mean to insult Miyako-dono…"

The dark-haired man shook his head, waving the comment away. "Ah, relax, Kuchiki."

He paused in biting into his ohagi, dark blue eyes distant for a moment. "Come to think of it, I often wonder why she loves an idiot like me in the first place."

Rukia watched him carefully for a moment, fidgeted with the hem of her hakama, and spoke up.

"Now who is being foolish? You…are a great man, Kaien-dono. That is why Miyako-dono loves you."

'And why I do as well,' she added silently in her head, careful not to let a sliver of sadness show in her eyes. She knew better. It was a simple crush and it would pass…someday.

Kaien stared at her for a moment, surprised by the boldness of her statement. After a moment, he smiled again and let out a small sigh. The little lost kitten was growing up. Who would have guessed it?

"Careful, Kuchiki, that came too close to a compliment." He chided, finishing off the ohagi in one huge gulp that smeared the sticky rice across his cheeks boyishly. Rukia bit her bottom lip to keep from giggling, but the effort reddened her cheeks and made him arch an eyebrow at her.

"You have rice on your face, Kaien-dono." She said with a smile, and he blushed a little. He would have rambled off on some irrelevant bragging about real men and messes, but Rukia leaned forward with her napkin and gently began to wipe the rice from his face. The movement put their bodies mere inches away, radiating warmth against the cool air of the forest, and Kaien found himself staring into her dark violet eyes. A sudden shudder went down his spine from the beauty and depth that they reflected. He had never truly realized just how pretty Kuchiki Rukia was until this moment.

She pulled away, too soon he noted, and folded the little cloth napkin back up into a square and stored it within her robes. Kaien shook off the momentary silence and stood to his feet, hoping that the wind would cool his burning cheeks.

"Alright, let's get back to work, Kuchiki."

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"And…because I didn't step in before the Hollow took over…he died. By my own hands. I killed him." Rukia whispered, staring blankly at the moonlight cascading over the bedspread. Ichigo had sat in silence, his amber eyes trained on her hunched form and filling to the brim with pity. It was easy to understand, now, why she cried in her sleep. She had probably never told this story aloud to anyone because it was too painful.

"Rukia…" Ichigo began in a hushed voice, but could not find the words to finish the sentence. He swallowed and dug deep for the pain buried inside himself that was suddenly easier to talk about now that he knew her story.

"I…know how you feel."

Rukia blinked and raised her face to look at him. "You…?"

He nodded just barely. "My mother. She…died because of me, too."

Rukia's dark eyes widened. "Ichigo…you don't have to—"

The boy shook his head slightly. "You trusted me so it's only fair that I do the same for you."

He told her everything, about the "girl" and the painful years of dealing with her death as the one who caused it and about how his father—that idiot—never blamed him for taking her away even though he blamed himself. He talked until his throat was too constricted to continue because the image of his mother's beautiful, smiling face had formed in his mind and he felt all those emotions come flooding back at once. Silence spilled between the two as they both thought about their own pain and the pain they shared of losing someone dear because of their own mistakes.

"Ichigo…if your father never blamed you for Masaki's death…why do you still blame yourself?" Rukia asked quietly, her gaze glued to her small, bare feet.

"I should have…been able to do something more for her. I shouldn't have run off…" He said with a grimace.

"You were a child, Ichigo—"

His voice rose, growing low with anger. "That's no excuse."

"You were too young to know better—"

"It shouldn't have stopped me…"

She glared up at him, her voice hardening as well. "Why do you blame yourself for something that is clearly not your fault?"

"Why do you?!"

Rukia stopped in mid-sentence, shocked. After a second, the anger returned. "Because it was my fault, Ichigo! I was an adult. I wielded a sword. I was a shinigami who was too selfish and too afraid to act when my nakama was in danger. I was coward and Kaien-dono had to pay for my mistake—"

"That's no different from what you're chastising me for! You were young too, Rukia, and you use his death as an excuse to hate who you have become and keep other people away." Ichigo shot back, standing suddenly. Rukia moved too quickly for him to see and suddenly, he felt a sharp pain across the right side of his face. He touched it, wincing as the spot stung. She had slapped him. Rukia slapped him.

"How dare you speak to me like that after what I've told you! You are such an immature brat, I swear to God—" She couldn't finish her sentence because of the rage that seemed to be devouring her small frame. Instead, Rukia whirled towards the closet and stomped over to it, sliding back the door. His voice was quiet.

"I love you, Rukia."

Time froze. Rukia just stood there, her violet eyes gone wide at the simple proclamation from the boy behind her. She could only hear the sound of blood pounding through her ears, her fingers clamping down so hard on the wooden frame that it hurt. Did he just…just…?

Her body felt heavy and drowsy as she slowly turned to face him, his name tumbling from her lips clumsily.

"I…Ichigo? What…?"

Those amber eyes burned hers with their normal intensity, but his gaze was heavy with something new, something almost…soft. Soft and yet as fierce as his personality.

"You don't have to answer me now, Rukia. I just…thought you should know. I do. I…I love you. And now I know why you've been holding yourself back from me." He took a step towards her, and then another and another until he stood mere inches from her shaking body. His hand reached up and gently brushed fallen strands of midnight hair away from the side of her face, rough yet gentle against her skin.

"I'll wait for you, Rukia. I'll wait for the day when you're ready to leave your heart with me: the day when you realize that Kaien's death was not your fault and that he loved you as I do. Until then…"

He bent and kissed her forehead, her eyelids, and her lips so gently if felt like a butterfly's wings skimming over her skin. She still could not move, could not speak. Ichigo turned away and went back to his bed, laying down and curling onto his side. After a moment, he heard the rustle of Rukia's bedcovers being moved and the small click of the closet door sliding shut. Silence. He sighed and closed his eyes.

Rukia lay on her small mattress, dazed, absently running her fingertips over her lips. Unexpectedly, she heard the words of her lost love reverberating in her ears and in the chambers of her heart before she slowly drifted off to sleep:

"Thanks. Because of you…I can leave my heart here."

FIN

o.o HOMG PPL. Please tell me if this is too dramatic or not. It's my first Bleach fic ever so be kind and review it for me. Thanks for reading. I might add another chapter based on responses, but I'm not sure yet since I'm a virgin to the fanfiction.

Kyoko